Palms & Petroleum :: Lompoc to Refugio State Beach

We ate lots of oranges while working in Lompoc!

We left Lompoc, California, with peace of mind, knowing we had tackled many large ‘to-do’ items on our year-end lists.  Well rested and feeling ready to get back on our bicycles and the road, we made a quick side trip to a post office to send home our third box of gear deemed ‘unnecessary’, then we set our eyes on the horizon as we pedaled up, up, up, and out of town.

The climb was long and gradual but the beautiful landscape kept us company as we rode.  Calling it a day, we set up camp just off the peak of San Julian Road.  We figured why spend the $20 or more for the hike/bike site at Gaviota State Park when there were numerous online complaints about the fierce winds and noise from the trains when we could camp for free and in peace?

Heading out of Lompoc

Highway 1 (San Julian Road) heading out of Lompoc

View from Highway 1, San Julian Road, outside of Lompoc

View from Highway 1, San Julian Road, outside of Lompoc

Wild Camp off of Highway 1, San Julian Road

Wild Camp off of Highway 1, San Julian Road

The next morning we continued on till Highway 1 merged with Highway 101 and led us to the coast.  We decided to stop at Refugio State Park for the night because other Californian cyclists had recommended it as the best of the three local parks, and they were right!  It was the first hike/bike site that we had come upon that offered cyclists camp quarters directly across from the beach and as far away from the rail tracks as possible.  It was also the first park that allowed us to pay for our stay via a credit card machine, found directly outside the door of the entry kiosk.  After meeting our camp neighbors (a local family who rode in from Goleta for the weekend) we set up camp and wandered along the beach.

At the peak, San Julian Road, coming from Lompoc

At the peak of San Julian Road, heading toward Highway 101

Heading toward Gaviota Park
Heading toward Gaviota Park, Hwy 1

The Old Highway 1 near Refugio State Park

The Old Highway 1 near Refugio State Park

Camping at Refugio State Park

Camping at Refugio State Park

Refugio State Park

Refugio State Park

Thanks to Tim & Laurel for taking this photo of us!

Refugio State Beach

While walking along the beach I noticed small patches of what looked like oil slicks on the sand, immediately contributing it to leakage from the oil rigs seen just off shore.  However, Kai noticed a “disclaimer” sign about the oil being “natural tar” which had been in the area for centuries.  We laughed, assuming it was another marketing ploy by the oil industry to cover their own tracks, which it ends up, may or may not be true.

The Disclaimer, Refugio State Beach

The Disclaimer

Refugio State Beach

Oil Rig off of Refugio State Beach

I did a little research and discovered that there actually has been natural oil seepage in the area for centuries.  In fact, the coastline running from Santa Barbara to El Capitan State Park, aptly named “Coal Oil Point“, has the largest natural oil and gas seeps in the Western Hemisphere and accounts for a huge amount of environmental pollution.  It’s estimated to release 40 tons of methane, 19 tons of ROC (reactive organic gas), and from 100 to 150 barrels of liquid petroleum per day.  Staggering!

But there are differing views of where the majority of the oil is spewing from.

Several groups, including UCSB and Stop Oil Seeps in California, claim the seepage is coming from natural spouts and propose that offshore drilling be increased, claiming that, historically, drilling has reduced the pressure of reservoirs, and thus, the rate of seepage.  I, personally, find it hard to swallow their recommendation, after considering the USCB’s funding sources and SOS member connections to the oil industry.  When I dug a little deeper, it appears USCB’s Hydrocarbon Seeps Project is funded, in part, by the U.S. Minerals Management Services department, the same department that continued to issue pardons and exemptions for big oil companies in the wake of 2010’s Gulf of Mexico spill, despite a government ordered moratorium on off-shore drilling.  And a quick read of the biographies on SOS’s “About Us” page shows several members have been employed by or directly benefited from the oil industry in the past, and some are even serving as current board members for oil companies.  Are we to believe that these financial connections don’t effect either organization’s recommendations?

Postcard showing oil extraction was prevalent in the pre-regulation past.

Others, mostly local citizens who have done some historical digging, claim the seepage was caused by the oil industry in the first place, and that the majority of oil is not coming from naturally occurring seepage points.  History documents wide-spread oil exploration in and around “Coal Oil Point” well before any regulations existed to prevent environmental damage or to oversee the clean up of sites after oil extraction was exhausted.  They claim the leaks are coming from hundreds of old wells, pre-regulation age, that weren’t capped correctly, or at all.  Despite citizen calls for clean up and capping of the old wells, there wasn’t much I could find in the way of media coverage (or of government or oil industry sponsored studies) of this possible source of the leaks.  That’s not surprising, though, since our media industry, over the last couple of decades, has generally gone the way of following the money rather than following the story.

Regardless of where the oil is coming from, the seeps, as well as current or future off-shore drilling ventures, pose a huge environmental problem, affecting the air and water quality in and around the coast.  Kai & I were pretty surprised that we hadn’t heard anything about these issues before.

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The Glow of Off Shore Oil Rigs in California, as seen from Refugio State Park

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Although our current administration claims to support “clean energy” and recently rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, it continues to support our addiction to fossil fuels and dangerous extraction/production methods, while under-funding more financially and energy efficient methods:

In 2010 the administration continued to approve offshore exploration waivers to oil companies, even after saying they were temporarily halting drilling due to the horrific Gulf of Mexico spill.

In his most recent State of the Union Address, Obama committed to “open more than 75% of potential offshore oil and gas resources to exploration“, and to ramp up harmful natural gas extraction methods like ‘fracking‘.

Obama continues to support expanding nuclear power plants and proposes providing federal loans to build new factories, despite the obvious environmental hazards, as demonstrated this past year by Japan’s tragedy.  Although the U.S. hasn’t built a factory in over 30 years, he recently approved the building of one in the state of Georgia, despite a massive public outcry.


Our GPS tracks for this route at BikeToastRouter


Next Stop :: Santa Barbara

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